Compassinges (2003)

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Composed for and premiered by percussionist Sam Solomon who first performed it at Lincoln Center on April 4, 2003 in the Juilliard Electronic Ensemble's series "Beyond the Machine 2.0".


Compassinges for solo percussion and interactive electronics (2003) is a single movement work arising from the interweaving of two independent pieces—a fast and highly canonic movement, and a slow, atmospheric song. The electronic component of the work was built from recordings of a string quartet (performed by Michelle Satris, Lisa Liu, Nadia Sirota, and Clarice Jensen), electric guitar, and voice.

The title comes from Chaucer's description of the marginalia of gothic architecture; the word itself is an elision of two words—compass (signifying geometrical design) and singes (monkeys)—and it refers to the very secular images and ideas which commonly inhabited the fringes of sacred medieval art. This idea is reflected in the piece in a number of ways. For example, the canonic segments of the work play with the material introduced in the song in ways that are complex and at times even irreverent. For me, the title is most clearly reflected in the production of the quartet recordings themselves. I edited, mixed, and produced the quartet material as if it were a pop recording, with lots of somewhat overdone effects like compression, distortion, speaker emulation, double tracking, spatial effects, etc. I also wanted to exploit the spatial disposition of the soloist and surround-sound electronics to create a center vs. periphery conflict. Compassinges was written for and dedicated to Samuel Solomon.